Nelson County saw the highest voter turnout rate throughout Lynchburg and the surrounding localities at last week’s general election.
When the polls closed at 7 p.m., Nelson County reported 54% voter turnout, which is an 11-percentage-point increase from the same type of election four years ago. Lynchburg saw 31%; Bedford, 42%; Amherst, 46%; Campbell, 43%; and Appomattox, 51%.
Larry Stopper, chairman of the Nelson County Democratic Committee, said he believes the high voter turnout rate was due to the contentious sheriff race as well as the quality of Democratic candidates. Stopper said, for example, in 2015 Matt Fariss, R-59th, ran unopposed. This year, Nelson Democrats supported Tim Hickey, his opponent, as well as the Democratic candidate for the 20th House District, Jennifer Lewis, who ran against former Staunton mayor John Avoli, a Republican.
“We got out and worked. We are proud of our organization and proud of how hard we worked. We believed in Jennifer and Tim,” Stopper said.
Carlton Ballowe, chairman of the Nelson County Republican Committee, echoed Stopper’s thoughts, saying the high voter turnout was due to both the sheriff’s race and Democrats working to flip the state as a whole.
“I think it was a great election cycle in the sense that both parties felt they had good candidates and it was spirited yet civil. Overall it was good,” Ballowe said.
At each precinct in all five districts in Nelson, residents showed up bright and early to ensure their voices were heard. When the doors opened at 6 a.m. at the Roseland precinct, a line had already formed despite the chilly temperature. Ten minutes later, the number of voters had already hit double digits.
The Roseland precinct reported 1,898 total registered voters; Rockfish 2,198; Schuyler 784; Shipman 1,747; Gladstone 289; Montebello 164; Faber 816; and Nellysford 1,899. Nelson County has 11,062 total registered voters. Of those registered voters, 10,779 are active.
In 2015, 2,390 voters had cast ballots by noon. By noon this year, 3,131 had voted. In 2015, 43% of residents voted.
Around 5 p.m., poll workers at the Lovingston precinct said voter turnout had been steady all day.
At the Shipman and Gladstone precincts in the South District, 1,073 votes were cast throughout the day specifically for the two board of supervisors representatives. In the end, Robert G. “Skip” Barton, a Democrat, won the South District seat, beating Republican Larry Saunders, a two-term incumbent, by just 50 votes.
Barton ran his campaign relying on his decades of experience in the county’s public schools, saying he hopes to be a voice for the school system. Barton said he learned a lot from his months of campaigning and a lot from the people he met.
“I hope to fulfill the confidence of the voters,” Barton said on Nov. 5.
Barton captured 52% of the votes cast.
Barton received 466 of 893 votes in Shipman and 68 of 132 votes in Gladstone. Barton also captured the majority of the absentee ballots with 26 of the 44 cast.
Saunders acknowledged the loss later in the week and declined to comment on the election.
Barton said he doesn’t really have any goals for his time on the board and prefers to stay in the moment. Barton emphasized his belief that schools shouldn’t be focused on test scores, but everyone should be focused on the unintended consequences of the “No Child Left Behind Act.”
“I’m going to try to keep the community involved,” Barton said.
Stopper said he believes Barton’s success was twofold; one of the reasons being that Barton has great name recognition and great relationships with people in the county.
“Skip taught many adults in the county and certainly many, many of those adults’ children. People knew him well and he was extremely well liked as a teacher,” Stopper said. “Skip is as well versed in details of schooling as anyone could be. He understood the budget numbers and people are interested in having a supervisor that really knows education.”
The soil and water race was a four-way race, and incumbents Mark Campbell and David Collins will stay put.
Also on the ballot this year were a number of uncontested familiar faces. Pam Campbell, current commissioner of revenue, will remain going into 2020. Angela Hicks will continue to serve as treasurer for the county. Daniel Rutherford will serve another four years as commonwealth’s attorney.
David Parr, after serving for over a decade as the West District representative on the Nelson County School Board, will now represent the West District on the Nelson County Board of Supervisors.
On the state level, Virginia results in both the House and the Senate mirrored Barton’s defeat of Saunders.
Jennifer Lewis lost the overall election, receiving 41% of the total votes. The 20th District for House of Delegates includes of parts of Augusta and Nelson counties; Highland County, and the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro. In Nelson County, Lewis narrowly garnered more votes than John Avoli. Lewis received 50.9% of the Nelson votes; Avoli 49.03%. Voters in the Roseland, Rockfish, central absentee, Montebello and Nellysford precincts weighed in on the race for the 20th District seat.
Educator Tim Hickey, a Democrat challenging incumbent Fariss, lost Nelson County by three votes. Hickey lost the election for the 59th House District with just 36.6% of the votes. The district includes Appomattox and Buckingham counties, and parts of Nelson, Campbell, and Albemarle. The votes came from the central absentee, Lovingston, Schuyler, Shipman, Gladstone, and Faber precincts.
Richard Chumney contributed to this report
Erin Conway covers Nelson County for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5524.